29 January, 2008

RPG Game of the Year for $10

I have always waited for prices to drop on computer games before I buy them -- not only is it easier on the pocketbook, but I can be sure my system will run them (see requirements below). I typically look at what Target and Fry's has to offer, and I recently found a great RPG, Sacred. Not only was it just $10, but PC Gamer named it RPG of the Year in 2004.

Sacred is a Diablo style RPG with three ways to play:
  • Hack and Slash (1 player)
  • Cooperative multi-player (up to 4 players)
  • LAN & Internet play (up to 16 players)
Now I have just played the Hack and Slash, but then again I want a game that has an ending. Sacred is divided into 4 Acts (see the Sacred website for descriptions of each Act), with about 15 hours of game play each. That number can go up or down depending on how much time you spend on the 200+ side-quests.

I am now in the middle of my second time playing, with my second character. Sacred offers a total of six different characters to choose from:
  1. Dark Elf: Using either poisoned blades or his lethal array of martial arts, the Dark Elf a deadly stealth fighter.
  2. Gladiator: An expert in close combat and he is trained to use all sorts of weapons.
  3. Battle Mage: A master of weapon lore and magic; his most powerful weapon is the magic of the elements.
  4. Vampiress: A skilled warrior during the day and a ruthless vampire at night.
  5. Seraphim: She uses heavenly magic to weaken opponents before striking them down with whirling blades.
  6. Wood Elf: A ranger and hunter, preferring to avoid close combat.
As you move up levels, you also get skill and attribute points to apply as you see most appropriate. The Sacred website has a good description of skills and a table that outlines at what level, which skills will be available, based on your particular character.

You can use Combat Combos to blend close and ranged combat as well as spell casting, all into one easy to use command (right-mouse-click). Depending on your character and skill level, you can have up to 5 Combat Combos to choose from. You can have combat on or off your horse, though many combos require you to be out of the saddle. You can also tailor some of the weaponry by visiting a Blacksmith.

Here's a few tips I've learned:
  • As with most RPGs, save often.
  • Your opponents always seem to be a bit higher in hit points, no matter how many you have, therefore growing your skills and having superior armor and weapons is critical to success.
  • The greatest benefit to do the side quests, besides being fun, is to find the best armor and weapons.
  • Use a horse -- you can get around much faster, making completing the game quicker.
  • Use a single, high-level Combat Art such as Confusion or Battle Fog in one of the Combo spots. By just using the single Combat Art, it will recharge very quickly, allowing you to use it multiple times in combat.
  • Use the "A" key to have your player pick up all available Gold and Items. When your pack is full, dump lower value items for higher value items.
  • Eventually you will have enough Gold, so collecting new items to sell wont be as important, but you will still want to check them to upgrade your weapons and armor.
  • One item may have higher hit point value, yet another item has better overall value to your quests. Compare the sale price to determine the total value of weapons and armor.
If Sacred sounds interesting to you, and you don't want to look for it in your local store, as of this post I see Amazon has used versions starting under $3.00. Happy Gaming!

Minimum System Requirements:
  • Pentium III 800 MHz Processor (or equivalent)
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 1.6 GB free Hard Drive (HDD) space with at least 400 MB swap-file.
  • DirectX8 compatible graphic card with 16 MB RAM
  • Sound card with DirectX support
  • Windows 98SE, WinME, Win2000 or WinXP
  • For multiplayer games a 56K modem (internet) or network card (LAN)
  • DirectX9
Recommended System Requirements (for optimal in-game performance):
  • Pentium IV 1,4 GHz Processor (or higher)
  • 512 MB RAM
  • 1.6 GB HDD space with at least 900 MB swap-file.
  • DirectX9 3D graphics card with 64 MB RAM(or higher).
  • DirectX9 compatible sound card
  • For multiplayer games DSL modem (internet) or 100 Mbit network card (LAN)
  • Windows 2000 or WinXP
  • DirectX9

21 January, 2008

Are you ready for digital broadcast TV?

We're just a little more than a year away from the end to analog TV broadcasts. After February 17, 2009, your old analog TV will no longer be able to pickup analog TV broadcasts, as the government is freeing this bandwidth up for new usage. There are many options for your old TVs, if you're not ready to replace it.

You can apply for a $40 coupon from the government to go towards a digital tuner. Go to the TV Converter Box Program website, ran by the Department of Commerce and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to find out more -- you have until March 31, 2009, or until coupons run out (the site does not list how many coupons are available).

The TV Converter Box Program website is full of good information (try the FAQs), as well as there are many other sites with good information. You might start with the Dallas Morning News' Tech Writer, Andrew D. Smith and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

If you have cable or satellite TV, you should not have any problems continuing the use of your analog TV. You can also use your analog TV for video games, your VCR, and DVD.

To learn more about what the government will do with the freed up analog spectrum, there has been a lot of controversy, and there are plenty of opinions. Computer World published a good article at the end of the year that covered many of the issues, in particular as it applies for the pending auction on Jan 24, 2008.

Create a List of Values to Pick from in Excel

I was working through some what-if analysis in Excel, and I wanted a simple way to adjust some values within my calculations based on input from my colleagues. I did my typical spreadsheet creation, section for input values and sections for outputs, and a graph of the output.

Now I wanted my graph to update whenever I changed the input values. I could easily type in a new value, but that quickly got tedious. Using Data Validation, I was able to create drop-downs for the inputs that frequently might change.

Here's how to do it.
  1. Create your worksheet, with a section that lists your input values
  2. In a new column, list the values you want in the drop-down (it must be on the same worksheet)
  3. Put your cursor in the field where you want the drop-down and go to Data | Validation...
  4. On the Settings tab, select List from the list labeled Allow
  5. Also on the Settings tab, click the table icon next to the Source field and highlight your list (step 2)
  6. Press Enter to accept
  7. Click OK
  8. With the new drop-down arrow next to the filed, select the input from the list

You can have as many of these as you would like, just remember to have the list data on the same worksheet. You can also hide the column(s) that contain your lists, so users of your spreadsheet will not see them.